Chelsea Manning on Tuesday sued Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Pentagon in federal court for access to hormone therapy, warning that her mental condition is rapidly deteriorating in the face of more than a year of military officials' delays.
In August 2013, the WikiLeaks source formerly known as Bradley Manning began serving a 35-year sentence at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for leaking government documents. But despite the Army's acknowledgment that Manning suffers from gender dysphoria, the prison has so far denied her access to hormones or the opportunity to dress as a woman.
"It has now been more than four years since I was first diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition that I have struggled with my entire life," Manning wrote in a legal filing. "I do not believe I will be able to survive another year or two -- let alone twenty to thirty years -- without treatment."
Manning is seeking a preliminary injunction that will allow her to begin treatment as the lawsuit runs its course, which could take years.
Manning's legal complaint details how she has sought access to treatment for gender dysphoria since the start of her imprisonment at Fort Leavenworth. Instead of providing her with appropriate treatment, the Pentagon has sought either to transfer her to a civilian prison or to satisfy her requests with half-measures like allowing her to wear a sports bra.
The Army, which does not allow transgender people to serve, was in the process of discharging Manning over her diagnosis when she was arrested for leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents in 2010.
Gender dysphoria is a condition defined by the American Psychiatric Association as significant distress stemming from incongruity between one's experienced or expressed gender and the gender others assign to one.
Without access to treatment, people with gender dysphoria are at a heightened risk of suicide -- which Manning made plans to commit while jailed in Kuwait. The United Nations equated her treatment in another military prison, in which she was kept in solitary confinement for 11 months, with torture.
"She has been a tremendous advocate for herself the past year, and every step of the way she has been hit with roadblocks," said Chase Strangio, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who is representing her. Her defense counsel during her court martial, David Coombs, is also involved the case.
Strangio said he believes the Army has a de facto policy of not allowing inmates in its prisons to undergo gender dysphoria treatment, in stark contrast to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and many state systems. That is a clear violation of the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, he said.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ben Garrett declined to comment, citing a policy against commenting on pending litigation. But the lawsuit notes that Fort Leavenworth's director of treatment programs, Lt. Col. Nathan Keller, had cited "operational challenges" from other inmates were Manning allowed to live openly as a female.
Federal courts have shot down that excuse when it has been used by civilian prisons, said Strangio. He has remained in frequent contact with Manning, who he said is in "escalating distress" of the military's foot-dragging.
"She for a long time retained hope that they would do the right thing," said Strangio. "Since then she's been very desperate for relief for a very serious condition which is not being taking seriously."